776.00/10–1851: Airgram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Liberia 1


A–90. The Department believes that recent developments regarding the trial of certain Liberians for sedition2 necessitate steps to inform the Liberian Government of the United States Government’s concern over this matter. Realizing President Tubman’s sensitiveness on this subject and the harm done the Embassy’s previous actions by independent approaches to the President, the Department leaves to the Embassy’s discretion the time and manner in which the following information is given to the President. However, it is believed that fairly quick action should be taken to put this information before the President before considerable harm is done to Liberia’s reputation as a democracy.

As the Embassy is aware, the recent Liberian elections3 have aroused considerable criticism in the United States, particularly in the press. The Department has received protests from various groups and individuals. Some of these protests sprang from self-interest and old grudges against the Tubman Administration. Others were obviously rooted in sincere concern at apparent signs of undemocratic election practices in Liberia.

The Department has defended the legality of the Liberian Government’s action in not placing Didhwo Twe’s name on the ballot. On the [Page 1308] strength of information received from the Embassy, the Department has also denied recurring rumors that Mr. Twe’s life has been in danger.

The Department is, furthermore, convinced of President Tubman’s sincere intention to further Liberia’s economic, social and political progress. It has repeatedly pointed to the progress made under his Administration as evidence refuting many of the arguments used against the President by his critics in the United States.

However, the President’s reported insistence on pursuing the sedition trial of Reformation Party officials and members is arousing a new round of protests. Letters and inquiries are already arriving from persons who had formerly been unaroused by protests concerning the elections or who had been satisfied with the Department’s explanation of the legalities involved. Among these persons is Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt,4 whose position on the United Nations Commission for Human Rights makes her particularly important. The Department finds it difficult to justify either to these persons or to itself the present exhibition of what amounts to vengeance for political opposition.

The Department is now trying to form an impressive delegation of prominent Americans to represent the United States at President Tubman’s inauguration.5 Steps have been taken to have United States Air Force and Navy units participate in the ceremonies. Liberia is one of the nations receiving most Point 4 aid, and is beng pointed to as a model of the type of progress achieved under Point 4 type programs.

In view of these facts, it is most difficult to maintain that such actions as the proposed trials should be considered as a strictly internal Liberian affair. The trial of political opponents is an act repugnant to most Americans and to most of the peoples associated with the United States in the present fight to protect the free world. The trial of President Tubman’s opponents would reflect upon the United States, which has evidenced and is evidencing in many ways its friendship for Liberia and the present Liberian Government. Rightly or wrongly, a political trial of the sort proposed would be considered prima facie evidence of the lack of real democracy in Liberia. This could endanger the entire American program in Liberia because of the obvious possible reaction on the part of the American public and the Congress.

For these reasons, the Department earnestly hopes that the Liberian Government can be persuaded to reconsider or modify its course of [Page 1309] action regarding the Reformation Party. In so doing, it would not only justify the faith and defense of its friends, it would also give the lie to those critics who question the existence of democracy in Liberia. Please keep the Department informed.6

  1. This airgram was drafted by Farmer (NEA/AF), was cleared by TCA and L/NEA, and Bourgerie (NEA/AF) signed for the Secretary of State.
  2. In August, approximately 20 members of the Liberian Reformation Party, which had opposed President Tubman during the May general election, were arrested by Liberian authorities and charged with alleged sedition. Reformation Party leader Didwo Twe, one of those indicted for sedition, fled to Freetown, Sierra Leone. The trial of the other Reformation Party leaders was eventually postponed and those charged were gradually released. It was reported that at least one of the prisoners was slain in jail by a fellow prisoner. Documentation on the detention and indictment of the Reformation Party members is included in file 776.00.
  3. Regarding the Liberian general election of 1951, see despatch 380, May 15, from Monrovia, p. 1295.
  4. See Hickerson’s letter of August 9 to Mrs. Roosevelt, p. 1303.
  5. A formal invitation to attend President Tubman’s Second Inaugural Ceremony in Monrovia, January 5–14, 1952, was delivered to the Department of State by the Liberian Embassy on July 9, 1951. During the remainder of the year arrangements were worked out by the Department for an American delegation to the inauguration. Initially the Department considered a delegation consisting of Nelson Rockefeller, Mrs. Mary Bethune, Col. Harry McBride, and Garland Farmer. Eventually a delegation headed by Ambassador Dudley and including Mrs. Bethune, Gen. James Stowell, and Carl Murphy was approved by President Truman and announced on January 1, 1952. For the text of the announcement regarding the delegation, see the Department of State Bulletin, January 7, 1952, p. 13. Documentation on the naming of the delegation is included in file 776.11.
  6. In his telegram 180, November 3, from Monrovia, Ambassador Dudley replied as follows:

    Tubman position slightly changed in Twe sedition matter. Twe will not be tried in absentia (he is now in Freetown). All others indicted for sedition are now out of jail. They will not be tried this term court. Tubman’s reason is that a relative of his (Judge Bond from Cape Palmas) has been assigned to this jurisdiction by the Supreme Court. It is now possible all except Twe may never be tried. No softening of attitude toward Twe can be expected this administration, because of Twe’s long history of agitation. Feeling generally high; if indictment keeps him out of the country so much the better.” (776.00/11–351)

    Telegram 219, December 7, from Monrovia, reported that Twe had applied for political asylum in the United States. The telegram observed that Twe was in no danger in Freetown and his presence in the United States might adversely affect U.S.-Liberian relations. The Embassy proposed to refuse Twe’s request on technical visa grounds. (776.00/12–751) Telegram 179, December 18, to Monrovia replied as follows:

    “Dept concurs ur decision refuse visa Twe without reference polit appeal. Emb shld note Section III–4 Regs (July 1939) which forbids dipl reps US from granting asylum. Also, Hackworth Digest Internatl Law, Vol. II, p. 622 which shows right of asylum never recognized by US as principle of Internatl law, although on occasion there has been sanctioned the granting of temporary refuge to Amer dipl and con missions when necessary for the preservation of human life.” (776.00/12–751)